Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yet another article on how hard rich people in Boston have it

© Jeff Durham
Now, don't get me wrong; of course I know it's expensive to live in Boston. I have a blog about being broke, after all. But this article is just aggravating me. Someone can't afford the median rent in Boston if they don't make $100,000 a year? Really?

First, the article lists the median rent at $2497 per month. That seems high. The article says it was based on rents on Zillow. Now, I love Zillow, mostly for, well, window-shopping for homes I'll never be able to afford, and, uh, maybe checking to see how hooked up some of my neighbors in their fancy homes are. But while Zillow is probably the best aggregator of homes for sale and for rent (it pulls from Craigslist and so forth), it still is only going to have homes that people are putting on the public market. Especially in working-class neighborhoods and communities primarily of color, people prefer to rent (and often even to sell) through word of mouth, to people they know and who are members of their community.

Also, let's talk about what a median is; think back to math class, where you learned (and promptly forgot?) that it's the middle number in a set. So, a median rent of $2497 means half the rents in Boston are higher than that and half are lower. Does that mean most are clustered around there? I don't think so. I think luxury downtown units going for $15,000 per month are skewing things. Those affect the median and mean rental figures, but they don't affect the price of a one-bedroom walkup in Dorchester. This is a city with a large population of students and people coming to work from out of the area who will overpay for an apartment that someone else is likely paying for, especially if they can get it rented and squared away before they arrive.

Oh, and the figures don't tell us what size the apartment is. Is $2497 ridiculous for a one-bedroom and unattainable to most people on one income? Yes. Is it perfectly reasonable for a six-bedroom Victorian near Ashmont with six housemates? Absolutely!

And let's just scrap the idea that anyone in a city is paying only 30% of their income on housing. For most people, it's going to be closer to 50%. Is that unfortunate and a sign of overpriced housing? Probably. But it's realistic and doable for most people.

Anyway, to my point, and yes, I had one. The reason the article is driving me crazy, and what led me to respond to it was this: "The cure to this, if you’d like to live in Boston, you need to find one or two roommates to split the cost. But, even still, it’s alarming to think the ability to live alone is reserved to those who make at least six figures."

MEDIAN. M-E-D-I-A-N, people. A quick peruse of Craigslist finds me several studio one-bedroom apartments in Brighton, East Boston, Allston, Roxbury, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, and Dorchester for under $1000. They're not the most amazing places, but they all appear to be safe and functional. If you plan it right, and especially if you get connected in a community, you can find a larger and nicer place for around this price. We did. So, if you spend half your income on rent, you can live in these places making $24,000 a year.

Ironically, when browsing, I actually saw the former apartment of some people I used to know. It's a small three-bedroom walkup badly in need of renovation. When I knew this place several years ago, they had 10 people living there -- three related nuclear families, each in one bedroom. Now, I did worry a bit about these folks as far as fire codes go, and I'll admit that during a meal I stepped into a bedroom to make a phone call and peeked out the window to make sure there were fire escapes. But my point is that people do what they gotta do. These folks were happy, hard-working, and grateful for their blessings.

Is it a bit messed up that people were living like this in the wealthiest country in the world? In a country where we have people who could have bought these families each a home with the monetary equivalent of me buying them a coffee? Of course it is. I definitely support the fight for better wages, better working conditions, housing, healthcare, education, and all the other things we as a civilized country can do better at.

But can people lay off with feeling sorry for themselves, and thinking they can't possibly live here if they don't make $100,000? It's insulting to my family and others who are living well below the poverty line. I'm not going to pretend our lives are glamorous or without some periods of extreme stress directly related to financial strains. But most of the time, we're thriving. And while there's a big part of me that's grateful that the sorts of people writing these pieces aren't bringing their privileged attitudes to our hard-working community-minded neighborhoods, I still don't need to hear about how they can't possibly afford to live "in Boston" when they really mean they might have to live somewhere poorer or less white. We're part of Boston too, even if the media likes to forget. Boston wouldn't survive without our labor.

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